Following an exciting, yet up-and-down long-weekend trip to Texas, our beloved Celtics returned to the Garden to host the division rival Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night. The odds were slightly against Toronto coming into tonight's game, as this was their fourth game in five nights and they were without two starters in Amir Johnson (ankle) and Jonas Valanciunas (hand), but entered tonight's contest leading the Atlantic Division with a 3-1 record. The Celtics, on the other hand, had dropped two straight and were ready to learn from some of their mistakes by producing a victory to put the green at .500.
Contrary to their rough starts in Houston and Dallas this past week, the Celtics jumped out of the gate with an aggressive mindset tonight and put together an electric 25-9 run to open the game. Brad Stevens' troops applied tight defensive pressure, gang rebounded and really made it a point to attack the rim. After going a combined 12-56 from beyond the arc throughout the two-game Texas swing, the Celtics scored 20 points in the paint in the first quarter tonight, a healthy complement to their 14-2 rebounding advantage in the frame. Thanks to that, a 79% shooting clip and a big two-way spark from Jeff Green, the Celtics put up 35 first quarter points and held a 12-point advantage heading into the second quarter.
The first unit looked pretty good early on, but correcting your first quarter mishaps doesn't close out a victory. It's funny how the game of runs plays itself out throughout the course of an NBA contest. Boston was lights out to begin tonight's game, but the Raptors are no cupcake squad whether they are banged up or not. In the second quarter, they cleaned up the beating they were taking on the glass and really took advantage of a stagnant offensive showing from Brad Stevens' second unit.
Not only did the Celtics cool off from the field and struggle to maintain their rhythm, they shot 38% in the second quarter and really got sloppy with the ball. Evan Turner, in particular, had four turnovers in eight first half minutes. Outside of a pair of triples from Marcus Smart, the Celtics bench threw the team's rhythm out of whack and the Raptors did a terrific job of pressuring defensively and taking advantage of empty possessions. Kyle Lowry was particularly aggressive, tactfully throwing his body around and attacking Boston's guards on his way to 17 first half points, including a 6-7 mark from the line.
Toronto put together a 15-0 run to help produce a 31-point second quarter, turning a 16-point deficit into a single-possession game before intermission. That just goes to show that you can't get too comfortable with a double-digit lead in an NBA game, especially in the first half. However, lead by 11 points, five rebounds and five assists from Rajon Rondo, the Celtics lead 57-54 heading into the locker room.
Kyle Lowry picked up right where he left off, just flat out getting anywhere he wanted to with the ball in his hands and pouring in another double-digit quarter to open the second half. Whether Rondo, Bradley, Smart or Turner were guarding him, Lowry toyed with the opposition off the bounce and continued to get into the paint at will. His backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan got off to somewhat of a quiet start tonight but the highflying All-Star swingman did some damage in the third quarter, as well, where he scored 10 of his 23 points and made some tough off-balance shots.
That high pick n' roll action with Lowry - killer. Just killer.
Through three, Boston was shooting 56% and held a 40-18 advantage on the glass, but committed 19 turnovers and often found themselves in no man's land. For the most part, the ball stayed on the move but bodies remained stationary and played into Toronto's hands as opposed to dictating the motion on the floor. Defensively, the Celtics were active but were routinely broken down off the dribble and had a very difficult time keeping the Raptors out of the lane, especially in pick n' roll situations. Not only was Toronto constantly scoring at the rim in the halfcourt, Boston's transition defense was nothing to write home about, either.
Thanks to back-to-back 30+ point quarters by the Raptors and a gorgeous buzzer-beating floater by Louis Williams, the Celtics found themselves down 88-86 heading into the final frame.
As Boston's defensive intensity increased to open the fourth, their offensive struggles continued. In addition to eight more turnovers, the Celtics scored just eight points throughout the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
After some big three-balls from Jeff Green and Marcus Smart, the Celtics came back from behind to tie the game up at 105 in the waning moments of the game, but would fail to seal the deal. Smart hit the big three and made some key hustle plays, but got his "welcome to the NBA" moment from Kyle Lowry as he was stripped in the midst of a crossover on Boston's potential go-ahead possession. A couple blinks later, DeMar DeRozan was rocking the rim with a thunderous and-one jam and that was all she wrote.
Look, the Celtics did a lot of things well tonight. They moved the ball, they hit the outside shot, you've got to feel great about Boston's enormous 55-24 rebounding edge, Jared Sullinger was an absolute animal with 19 points and 16 boards, Kelly Olynyk came through with a big double-double of his own (18 points, 13 rebounds), Marcus Smart had another solid night (despite the late turnover) and Rajon Rondo racked up his 30th career triple-double. Man, does Rondo look good or what?
However, you can't turn the ball over 27 times and expect to win a ballgame against a good team. Hell, even against a weaker team.
Hats off to the Raptors, who battled all night and showed why they are such a tough team to deal with. Persistence and execution is what separated them from the green in this one. Had the Cs just taken better care of the ball, we could be celebrating a victory right now, but these growing pains are part of what comes with a youth movement.
Raptors - 110
Celtics - 107
Player of the Game
35 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 12-17 FG, 9-10 FT
The Celtics will be back in action at the Garden on Friday night, where they'll take on the Indiana Pacers at 7:30 pm ET.